Importance Observational studies have consistently proposed cardiovascular benefits associated with light alcohol consumption, while recent genetic analyses (ie, mendelian randomization studies) have suggested a possible causal link between alcohol intake and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, traditional approaches to genetic epidemiology assume a linear association and thus have not fully evaluated dose-response estimates of risk across different levels of alcohol intake.
Objectives To assess the association of habitual alcohol intake with cardiovascular disease risk and to evaluate the direction and relative magnitude of cardiovascular risk associated with different amounts of alcohol consumption.
Design, Setting, and Participants This cohort study used the UK Biobank (2006-2010, follow-up until 2016) to examine confounding in epidemiologic associations between alcohol intake and cardiovascular diseases. Using both traditional (ie, linear) and nonlinear mendelian randomization, potential associations between alcohol consumption and cardiovascular diseases (eg, hypertension and coronary artery disease) as well as corresponding association shapes were assessed. Data analysis was conducted from July 2019 to January 2022.
Exposures Genetic predisposition to alcohol intake
Main Outcomes and Measures The association between alcohol consumption and cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, stroke, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation.
Results This study included 371 463 participants (mean [SD] age, 57.0 [7.9] years; 172 400 [46%] men), who consumed a mean (SD) 9.2 (10.6) standard drinks per week. Overall, 121 708 participants (33%) had hypertension. Light to moderate alcohol consumption was associated with healthier lifestyle factors, adjustment for which attenuated the cardioprotective epidemiologic associations with modest intake. In linear mendelian randomization analyses, a 1-SD increase in genetically predicted alcohol consumption was associated with 1.3-fold (95% CI, 1.2-1.4) higher risk of hypertension (P < .001) and 1.4-fold (95% CI, 1.1-1.8) higher risk of coronary artery disease (P = .006). Nonlinear mendelian randomization analyses suggested nonlinear associations between alcohol consumption and both hypertension and coronary artery disease: light alcohol intake was associated with minimal increases in cardiovascular risk, whereas heavier consumption was associated with exponential increases in risk of both clinical and subclinical cardiovascular disease.
Conclusions and Relevance In this cohort study, coincident, favorable lifestyle factors attenuated the observational benefits of modest alcohol intake. Genetic epidemiology suggested that alcohol consumption of all amounts was associated with increased cardiovascular risk, but marked risk differences exist across levels of intake, including those accepted by current national guidelines.